Image Source: Topic Sites.
One of the topics on this blog is memory, the tricks it plays, how it can be altered and co-opted, and above all, the moment at which it gives way to history. Below the jump, see a 9 February 1956 American game show television broadcast, which featured an interview with the only living witness of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on 14 April 1865 at Ford's Theatre in Washington D.C. (Hat tip: The Atlantic.)
Video Source: Youtube.What happens to us when we lose a last living link with the past?
In this case, assassination tragically drove home the meaning of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, which is perhaps the most famous American political speech ever delivered. In the Gettysburg speech, Lincoln pointed to America's highest aims. He also viewed those aims in the context of the Civil War. For him, the war signified America's propensity for fatal internal divisions, which constituted the country's Achilles heel. Lincoln suggested that memory of conflict could resolve that national tension between hope and self-defeat:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
With Lincoln's words in mind, consider what happens when living memory fades and we break historical trust with the past.But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Before and after a war memorial theft in Tidworth, Wiltshire, UK. Images Source: Daily Mail.
Today's rising technocracy gushes constantly about the present and future. Technology's data flood has created a culture that commonly disregards, dismisses or defiles the past. At best, it rearranges the past in mix-'n'-match postmodern terms, where ancient China can be juxtaposed with Victorian England with no sense of anachronistic confusion, and everything earlier than 1950 is one big jumble of random historical details in the cyberpublic's mind. That ignorance of historical continuity, so promoted by cyberculture, is a bad sign.
"The bronze plaque was stolen off a granite boulder in Memorial Peace Park, off 224th Street in Maple Ridge [British Columbia, Canada]." Image Source: Maple Ridge News.
The broken jump between memory and history is ominously measured through the recession's hardships: since 2008, there have been increasing incidents of war memorial plaques being stolen in the UK (see reports here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here); Canada (see also here, here, here, here and related stories here, here and here); and the USA (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here). Thieves sell the metal to be melted down. (They are also stealing and melting down outdoor bronze sculptures by famous artists.)
A war memorial stripped of its bronze plaque, in Witek Memorial Park, Derby, Connecticut, USA. Image Source: Valley Independent Sentinel.
If anything, the thieves' disconnection from history is an ill omen, which promises a return of widespread conflict. "If ye break faith with us who die, We shall not sleep ..."
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